After many years of marriage, facing retirement and lots more time together, a great many Baby Boomers are calling it quits. That’s part of what a Pew Research report tells us about those of us heading into our later years. While for some this is all about a growing dissatisfaction with our partners, it’s also about our increased longevity as well as, for some, improved health as we’ve aged. We want to spend our last years doing different things, exercising our options and having fun. That is, as long as divorce didn’t leave us financially insecure, as it does for many women. Still, if we do decide to call it quits, many of those with greying temples still want company, if not necessarily a spouse, and we have joined dating sites with a vengeance.
The results can be pretty mixed. I can attest. I was in that market on and off for the last decade.
While I returned to a long-standing relationship (nearly eleven years at this point) with a BF who moved in last May, I was recently reminded by stories from friends about the challenges of Dating While Middle-Aged. Before said BF and I decided to give it a serious try, last January I had joined Zoosk, as Match.com had turned out to be such a horror show especially for those of us over sixty.
While Zoosk is no different from any other site in that it has its share of scammers and manufactured profiles, unlike Fitness Singles it has a great many more folks participating. That gives you hope. At least for a while. By the time I joined Zoosk, I’d had plenty of experience online.
For those of us in middle age or trending towards a bit older (I was 64 at the time), this process can be daunting. First, many of us have had some negative experiences (life will do that) and second, some of us may also have supremely unreasonable expectations. We may be totally and completely out of touch with how we look, how we come across and our attractiveness. All too often we have a self image steeped in fantasy, and are deeply disappointed in others’ rather frank reactions to our photos or the shape we’re in. That’s a perfect setup for disappointment. On the other hand, there’s no reason whatsoever not to have hope. With that in our backpacks, we launch online and start the daunting dating dance all over again.
One NFL playoff weekend I’d gotten into an email conversation with someone in his late forties (my favorite age range) and he’d asked me to join him for a concert. I demurred as I’d been up since 4 am, and suggested that I get back in touch later. He sent me his number.
During a break in a late Vikings game (which was a right doozy, the best game all season), I called.
He had no clue who I was and treated me like a telephone marketer. Once we got past that, we started just getting to know one another.
I can’t recall how this came up, but about seven minutes into this call this man, about whom I knew nothing, who wanted me to go out with him, laid into his previous relationship with such fury and viciousness that I was taken aback. In fact, he did this three times.
“Hang on a minute,” I said. “All due respect, you have every right to your feelings about what’s going on in your life, but I’m neither interested in that kind of language, nor do I want to hear your anger about someone you chose to be with. You might consider how that’s affecting me, someone you barely just met.”
He countered with how “this shouldn’t have happened to him” and he would “say anything he wanted about this woman.”
Here’s my problem with that. First, someone’s previous failed relationships are very poor fodder for an initial conversation. Second, calling them a “f —g whore” gives me a very clear view of how this guy operates. He blames others for bad decisions he made, and he’s perfectly willing to slather a stranger with that vitriol.
If any of us has been around long enough, we’ve been wronged by someone. Or that’s our story about it. Bottom line, we chose that person, good bad or indifferent. We own those results. We all fail in one way or another in our intimate connections; that’s how we grow. If we’re not willing to learn from those mistakes and then we spend all our time blaming the other person, then we’re not good relationship material.
This man is in no position to be on a dating site. He’s as angry as Krakatoa, and whether or not that’s justified is none of my business.
I ended the conversation politely and then blocked his profile.
What saddened me about this exchange is that it isn’t uncommon. On one hand, single folks want great company. Some want marriage. The problem is that if we expect to start over, then a house cleaning is in order. That’s hard personal work. There’s no question that many of us have connections that are either very hard to break, or our history affects our ability to be vulnerable to someone new.
On the other hand, if we’re still embroiled in legal situations, are fresh right off a breakup, or in some way stunted in our ability to engage someone new, then the real work is internal. Nobody can fix us, make us better. Counseling can help. Grabbing a new body doesn’t. It can be distracting, but we will destroy that new connection quickly if we haven’t sorted out what we did wrong the last time (and every time, if this is a recurring theme.)
My big brother, who died at 62, spent his entire life going through one failed relationship after another. The breakups were always and forever the woman’s fault. He was incapable of seeing how he was culpable, and as a result, he never grew. He had a drug and alcohol problem, which had badly stunted his emotional development. Peter exuded that hangdog, sweet puppy charm that sucked savior-women in like a bee to a flower. They wanted to save someone who wasn’t salvageable. So, he spent a lifetime of blaming everyone else for what was at least half his doing.
Each one of those relationships mirrored something to my brother that he most vehemently did not wish to see, did not wish to work with in order to be a better man. That’s exactly why relationships are such hard work. We come face to face with what ails us. The exquisite opportunity to evolve into a better person is right in front of us. My current relationship forces me to reassess the lofty notions I have about myself. You’re damned right that’s painful. But it’s not going to work unless I work with the material I’m handed, and am grateful for it. (PS, it didn’t, but that’s largely because he turned to be verbally abusive. That’s another story)
Starting all over again means that we’ve effectively cleaned house and there’s room for something/someone new. There isn’t some “perfect person” out there, some “soul mate” with whom everything will be blissful and easy. There’s plenty of hard work involved to make something last, and be meaningful.
Part of housecleaning is being brutally honest with ourselves about our 50% of the problem. If you have had a series of relationships and it’s just always the other person’s fault, that’s a symptom. Unless your partner was psychotic (and it happens) then there’s a piece you had in the failure as well. Taking the time to carefully look at our choices and the habits we may have formed over the years will give us clues to see what we could do better.
Another piece to consider, and it pains me to even have to say this, is that sex after sixty — or even after forty — for a great many of us continues to be a battleground. Given the reality of our times, with STDs and HIV and all the other inherent pitfalls of intimacy, the simple fact that many adult men still refuse to wear condoms. For those of us later in life, that carries just as much danger as it ever did, with rates of disease rising rapidly in older populations. Dating has plenty enough pitfalls, but that level of sexual immaturity will immediately undermine a budding relationship.
Sexual politics aside, I believe powerfully that we draw those people to us who are our best teachers. Whether we want to admit it or not, everyone we’ve spent time with has added value in some way. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t.
As I am most certainly rediscovering now with someone living in my house, relationships are hard damned work. I am constantly faced with my failings, and things I could do better, where I fail in being a communicator. I love to think I’m an expert communicator. Yah. But not necessarily when it comes to issues of the heart. Therein lies our hardest, deepest work, where we are most vulnerable, and where the potential for true growth lives. Sometimes I find myself behaving like a selfish adolescent, which is supremely embarrassing. Yet it’s also highly instructive of a piece of me that shows up that clearly needs addressing. That’s not the BF’s fault. This is precisely what is supposed to happen. How I deal with that information is strictly up to me.
What I do know is that finding blame is no way to go about finding love.
A Facebook acquaintance (he’s not a friend, we’ve never met) and I met on Plenty of Fish many years ago. He’s a handsome, tall, athletic guy, well-groomed, successful. Just bought a big, lovely mountain home. Owns two companies. A real catch, right? Here’s the problem. From the time he and I first connected on line, he expressed deep bitterness about his first wife.
He still does.
He’s still single.
I see his rants and complaints on line all the time, along with his genuine wish for love. The former chases away the latter.
People are not going to curl up in bed with an angry rattlesnake. It doesn’t make the slightest difference how justified you think you may be in that anger. Until we have cleaned up the messes that we have made, there is no safe place for new love to grow.